Pro Bono: Why it's Important & Why You Should Join
I could honestly write forever about this topic (but I’ll spare you). First, always remember that the legal profession is a service profession. Whether you work for the government, a non-profit, you are doing pro bono work, or your client is a major corporation, as a lawyer, you are providing a service.
Because our profession is based on service, the legal community places a HUGE emphasis on pro bono projects. This is something that actually shocked me when I started law school. I truly had no idea the level of commitment my fellow students, professors, and alumni would have to pro bono. Honestly, it is one of the best surprises I have ever had.
At my school, we have tons of pro bono organizations. I don’t know a student who does not work on at least one. Not only are they important because you are providing your expertise to people in need, but they are also an excellent opportunity to practice some real-world skills and get some experience.
Personally, I am a part of two pro bono organizations that are specific to my school, but I will tell you a little about them so you can learn. (If you are ever interested in learning more or trying to do something similar at your school LMK).
Outreach for Legal Literacy (OLL)
OLL has quickly become one of the most near-and-dear to my heart organizations I have ever been involved in. The organization focuses on providing vital civics education to local fifth grade students by having law school student volunteers meet with an assigned classroom 10-12 times a year. Over the course of the year, the students learn about all three branches of the government while doing fun activities to help them gain a better understanding. In the spring, at the end of the year, we host a mock trial at the law school so students get to come visit us and test out their lawyering skills. We also have a fun project that I get to be in charge of this year, Law Student for a Day. This program invites students from the community to come spend civics inspired day of programming at the law school. We think it is important that students get the opportunity to come to the law school and make a connection with us, because our goals and ambitions are inspired by the things, we know are possible. We believe in these students and we want them to know it.
I am especially excited to serve as the VP of Special Events and have the opportunity to plan not one but two LS4D events next year. Our second event wll be focused on reaching out to the rural communities surrounding Bloomington that may be too far away to visit each week. If you don’t know, Indiana is a pretty rural state and many students don’t have the same educational opportunities that most people who go on to pursue higher education had when they were young. As a member of one of these small, rural communities it has always been a goal of mine to give back to those students because I am in a position to do so. I am not a person who believes every person needs a college degree, but I do know that students who don’t have the opportunities to love education when they are children also don’t make it a priority when they are older. This program will work to provide an opportunity that is sorely missing.
I could go on about OLL forever, but I’ll stop now and just say that if you have any questions about the program, please reach out. It really is an amazing opportunity for our volunteers to positively impact a community and create a lasting effect on educational initiatives.
Volunteers in Intellectual Property (VIPs)
If you have looked around the blog, Instagram, or pinterest you probably know that I had a first life as an engineer and because of that I am extremely interested in pursuing jobs in the field of intellectual property. That background has helped shape a lot of my law school interests as well. Maurer has an incredible IP Clinic through our Center for Intellectual Property and a few years ago they were trying to figure out how to create more opportunities for 1Ls. They created VIPs, which allows 1Ls to help out the clinic by performing prior art searches. It has been a really great way to get my feet wet in the field and put some experience on my resume that employers know is valuable. Plus, it is a great foot in the door with the professors who run the clinic, because in the future I am planning on volunteering for the clinic for externship credit.
Before talking to my professors during admitted students day, I never would have guessed there was a way that I could combine pro bono and IP experience. This program was an exciting surprise that swayed my decision in picking my school and I am really glad I took the time to find out about it and then dedicate some time to it once coming into law school. VIPs is primarily for 1Ls, so it won’t be a program I participate in next year, but that’s okay because I will finally be able to take some IP classes and hopefully get some time in the clinic.
Overall, pro bono is such an important piece of your law school experience. I hope you all take the time to look into programs that you are passionate about or that combine pro bono and your future interests OR BOTH. Also, don’t be afraid to sign up for more than one pro bono project. Generally, these groups are structured so that you can pick your own level on involvement. As a law student and lawyer you will be in a position of privilege in your community. I hope you never stop asking how you can give back to that community.